Ayna Bayramova and Mengli Mamedova. Contributors from Turkmenistan.
Authors of this paper interviewed six women and collected comments of the respondents on popular forums to present popular opinion on the role of women in the society.
In spite of the twenty first century and globalization, Turkmen society tails and strives to pursue its long established traditions and culture. It represents the type of the society where women are not just assigned to certain roles within the accepted mindset but also demanded and expected to fulfill responsibilities within their family and society. Those who break rules and behave differently are highly judged and oppressed by the majority of traditional society.
While the so-called “Turkmenchilik”- traditional mindset of Turkmen society does not allow thinking and acting out of frames, Turkmen forums are full of discussion of what an ideal husband and wife should look and act like. Most of those forums are visited by single young men, and represent different reality from the stories collected during the interviews with divorced women. Thus, one of the popular topics is where to find or how to nurture an ideal wife. The top answer is to marry a very young woman and educate her to fit husband’s demands.[i] However, men aren’t being delusional. They realize that young wife may find a young partner or change her behavior under the influence of her peers or stay with a wealthy husband just to ensure her financial wellbeing.[ii] As one of the interviewed women notices, badly behaving or ill-mannered wives face the threat of domestic violence exposed by their husbands and mothers-in-law. The traditional mindset of Turkmen society restrains women from talking about domestic violence, as it would be matter of public shame and dishonor. Thus, having to survive in men ruled society with strong traditional mindset women mostly do not have voice and tolerate husband’s violent behavior and humiliation of mothers-in-law.
On the other hand, younger participants note that their parents were more supportive of divorce in case of domestic violence. The situation and an attitude to divorce in urban differs from rural areas. As discussed by the interviewees, in most of the traditional families husbands expose women to domestic violence and sexual assault. Crime of domestic violence against women is not regulated by the Turkmen legislation. The offences can be punished only under the “offences against a person” section of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan with up to 25 years of deprivation of freedom. However, the law was not applied, as victims of the domestic violence do not make official reports to police or other agencies due to social shame and prejudices of traditional mindset. According to statistics published in 2009 by UN, Turkmenistan is amongst the countries that have “weak legislation on domestic violence.” Thus, while traditional thinking prevents women from reporting cases of domestic violence, family support helps some women escape from the threatening environment.
While the responses on popular forums note that it becomes more difficult to control wives who were educated in the city environment, in Turkmen society women carry double labor workload.[iii] In addition to the household duties, stereotypes of what is considered to be female and male work exist in society. Women are expected and encouraged to become teachers, nurses and accountants while men occupy decision-making positions in private and governmental sectors. Women hold auxiliary positions, as they would never think of going further in their career path as they are instilled to be patient and happy with what they have. Men assign household duties to women even if the couple lives together before marrying.[iv] From the online forum discussions, it become clear that men have a prerogative in distributing the roles and assignments for the members of the household, which means that a woman has no say in her career. At the same time, this situation can be debated by the fact that several ministerial as well as high executive and law enforcement positions of the country are led by the women who were promoted throughout their careers and still present the traditional image of the women of the community. This paradoxical situation is caused by the fact of different style of living and changing of the mindset in urban and rural environments.
On the other side, when it comes to creating a family, men chose to marry or not, and not the woman.[v] Turkmen men believe that every woman wants to get married and will tolerate cheating which gives them advantage over women in controlling the relationship. “No matter how modern, old or educated she is, she wants to have a husband. When he cheats women will know, and they will keep silence to preserve the family. But if he goes over limits, they will try to speculate with children.” Men on popular forums discuss how to know that your beloved one is the one, while women do not raise this topic.[vi] While men decide who to marry, it seems that women are looking for someone who would marry them. At the same time, while no fighting is impossible, men comment that women stay loyal if the positive image of her husband is built based on her father’s or brother’s example. “Everyone fights, but you should not step over limits, like calling names and pointing on sensitive sides.” Popular articles encourage revealing positive and warm feelings instead of applying violence against women.[vii] The culture of shame for divorce or violence is deeply embedded into the traditional thinking. Despite increasing number of divorces in urban area, cultural perception of women as obedient and silent remains in place.
In general, based on the interviews and forums’ discussion, both sides look for understanding in the ideal relationship. However, women remain vulnerable as they have less resources for protection and promotion of their rights. While popular forums might discuss what love is, real time stories and interviews with victims of domestic violence present marriage in a much negative way. These two representations need to be balanced to create a general picture of the Turkmen society and its traditions.